Lebanon says Beirut port explosion not a terrorist attack as wave of funerals passes

The powerful blast was initially thought to be an Israeli airstrike on Iran-backed Hezbollah but now no one has ruled out Syrian involvement Lebanon says Beirut port explosion not a terrorist attack as wave…

Lebanon says Beirut port explosion not a terrorist attack as wave of funerals passes

The powerful blast was initially thought to be an Israeli airstrike on Iran-backed Hezbollah but now no one has ruled out Syrian involvement

Lebanon says Beirut port explosion not a terrorist attack as wave of funerals passes

A powerful explosion at Beirut’s port was feared to be a revenge attack targeting Iran-backed Hezbollah, but on Thursday authorities said it was not. The blast ripped through a building several hundred metres from the port in the north of the city, killing at least three people and injuring dozens.

Officials in the eastern Bekaa Valley towns of Saida and Bujaba have linked it to the Syrian regime, but the country’s special prosecutor said the bombing had been accidental. Others have suggested a terrorist motive.

“It is not the work of a terrorist organisation but of the Israelis,” Lebanon’s justice minister, Elie Rubai, told Reuters, warning that “other attacks” were expected.

The blast from the building, overlooking the port and guarded by the army, has triggered a new round of speculation. Al-Manar TV, which belongs to the Hezbollah movement, reported it was “not a terrorist attack”.

Lebanon’s government had said it would hold a meeting on Thursday night to discuss ways to deal with the aftermath of the blast. Government spokesman Joseph Aoun told Reuters the attack was “a new disaster” and that the whole nation and families of the victims would be to blame.

Severe damage was caused to two buildings in the waterfront area, with shattered glass lying on the ground and an excavator scouring the street for explosives. Crowds gathered in the street, talking with police and army soldiers and offering money for donations to a tent set up for the injured.

“These raids came like waves,” said one, Salim Jassim. “Last week we had one and today another. It’s frightening, the thought of something like this happening on my doorstep.”

Other residents said the explosion struck just before sunset, under street lamps. Victims are believed to have been holidaymakers.

On state television, a security source said the probe had found evidence of a possible bomb in the building and asked the public to help identify who might have planted it.

A security official said Friday’s funerals would be attended by prime minister Saad Hariri and leading figures from the pro-western coalition.

A landmark mural dedicated to former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Photograph: Getty Images

Earlier this week, an explosion inside the Imda’a – a political supporter’s club – killed at least nine and wounded several others.

This latest attack comes at a time of tense domestic politics, as the government also deals with a spillover of violence from neighbouring Syria, and the devastating civil war there.

Earlier this month, Hariri announced his resignation and made the move in Saudi Arabia, where his personal life has been disturbed by reports of a feud with Hezbollah.

Hariri was toppled as prime minister in November 2016 by his political opponents. He said he feared assassination.

“It is not the first time that the army is cleaning the country of explosives,” said one man, Nabil El-Shayma, whose business is across the street from the blast. “We must hope that this is not a turning point in Lebanon’s history, but one that just aggravates the situation.”

The province of Bekaa, though Sunni-majority, is politically balanced between pro- and anti-Syria camps, but some believe that militants might be attracted to southern Lebanon as a sectarian flashpoint.

On Thursday, the head of Lebanon’s national security council said Syria and Lebanon are closely watching each other’s actions, but in light of developments in Syria, Lebanon “does not represent a source of worry”.

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